What government heard about Making Poverty History

By Josh Brandon, Housing and Community Development Researcher

Last week, the Provincial government released the results of the consultations it conducted for its ALL Aboard: Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy. In an introductory letter, Housing and Community Development Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross expressed her government’s commitment “to working with the community and other levels of government to tackle the root causes of poverty.” From the results of the consultation, it is apparent that the community has done its part by providing important information on what is needed to alleviate poverty in Manitoba. Now it is up to the government to act.

According to the consultation, the top priority for investments in reducing poverty should be in housing, followed by providing food security. Employment ranked third. This set of priorities reflects a housing first strategy that anti-poverty researchers have shown to be essential for lifting families and individuals out of poverty. Without a place to live and quality food, getting and keeping a job will be continually out of reach.

It is encouraging that the report highlights a recommendation that EIA rates need to be raised to reflect the actual cost of living in Manitoba. According to the report:

We heard increasing Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) rates is a priority for many, and that the EIA shelter allowance should be increased to reflect current housing costs, as rents have increased and affordable housing in the private market is scarce.

A further pull-out quote calls for EIA rates to be raised to 75% of median market rates. This is what the Make Poverty History coalition has been asking for over the past year. In last spring’s budget, some small steps were taken by raising RentAid to help some EIA recipients as well as lower income seniors, families and people with disabilities, however the increases did not go far enough. (see our CCPA Fast Facts report).

In fact, almost all this year’s $20 per month increase in RentAid was eaten up by increases in rent for most families. The budget did little to redress two decades of austerity cutbacks for families and individuals on EIA. EIA and RentAid together made up only 50% of median market rent for a single person on general assistance in 2012. With the RentAid increase this year, that figure has scarcely climbed to 51%. Based on current rents in Manitoba, the assistance package still needs to be increased by up to $377, depending on the family type.

Unit Size Median Market Rent 2013 (Manitoba) 75% of Median Market Rent Current EIA Rental Allowance + RentAid
1 Bedroom $718 $539 $365-$387
2 Bedroom $912 $684 $430-$471
3 Bedroom $1130 $848 $471-$513

Minister Irvin-Ross should be commended for consulting with and listening to anti-poverty activists in developing her strategy. Making sure everyone in Manitoba has a decent place to live must be a priority. However, until EIA rates are raised to reflect actual rents in Manitoba, families will continue to face an impossible choice between paying rent and feeding their kids.

We look forward to the upcoming release of the EIA Rate Review. We remain hopeful that the strong recommendations the government has heard in this consultation will be reflected in real financial commitments for those in the greatest need.